September 28


5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English

By Gordon Gaffney

September 28, 2021

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English

Some TV series can be great for learning English. For instance, Benny the Irish Polyglot has some tips here.

The guys over on Real Life English have their own English with TV section which you can check out for free, and they even have developed a paid course based around the popular TV series Friends.

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English (Friends)

Friends is an example of a good TV series to watch in order to learn English. In general the characters speak quite clearly with good pronunciation and without strong accents.

They also speak like people you would meet in normal situations.
In fact the series was so popular that I noticed some people started to copy the characters and talked like them in real life. 

However some TV shows are not good for learning English, usually because of strong accents, the use of slang, or it may be set in the past and the characters may speak in a way that is now obsolete.

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English (Tropa de Elite)

For instance, Tropa de Elite is very difficult for me to understand as a student of Portuguese because of slang and how quickly the characters speak. They often 'cut' parts of a word or contract two or more words or join two words together. However this style adds to the realism and makes it a better movie.

Overall I think that watching news programs is probably the best thing to watch on TV as the newsreaders and reporters speak very clearly and won't use slang. Another option is to watch TV shows for children.

However if you want to relax and enjoy some entertaining TV here are some shows to avoid when learning English.

1. Peaky Blinders 

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English (Peaky Blinders)

The production design, acting, and storyline of this BBC TV show are brilliant, but part of the greatness of this show is its authenticity. This authenticity is shown in the way the characters speak.

It stars Irish actor Cillian Murphy and is set in Birmingham, England in 1919 so the characters have 'Brummie' accents. 

Brummie is slang for "Birmingham" and the people from Birmingham are often called Brummies.

The structure of the language is also a little different to how people speak today. The vocabulary is different as words become 'old' or obsolete and are no longer used today.

The Black Sabbath lead singer and reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne is another famous 'Brummie', you might notice his accent is similar to the characters in Peaky Blinders.

Some other characters in the show are from London have strong "Cockney" accents, again Cockney is slang for London. Similar to a 'carioca' from Rio de Janeiro or a 'paulista' from São Paulo in Brazil.

2. Breaking Bad

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English (Breaking Bad)

Another smash-hit show unsuitable for students learning English. The main character Walter White is fine. He is a middle-aged, middle-class school teacher. But Aaron Paul's character Jesse Pinkman is very difficult to understand.

His pronunciation is good and the writing on the show is excellent because there is a generation of people in the USA that speak very similar to Jesse.

Jesse is a small-time drug dealer and his language is the language "of the street". He is part of a subculture where people go by street names or nicknames instead of their legal name on their birth certificate.

They don't just use slang occasionally, instead there is so much slang that it is almost like a completely different language. This is the way a lot of people of a certain age speak in the USA.

What started as the language of the street [see The Wire below], has now become the mainstream. What was once only heard in poorer, predominantly African-American communities started to be widely heard through rap music, first on the radio and on albums, and then with MTV.

With this, "hip-hop" culture, for want of a better word, became commercialised and mainstream.

I can understand Jesse fine but I may not understand every word and I understand some of what he says from the context of the situation as he is using slang I have never heard before.

The website urbandictionary is a website specifically for slang. If you have a doubt about a slang word, phrase or expression then it is probably on Urbandictionary. Since slang can be very localised native speakers will often have to consult the site for a meaning of a word or phrase.

So if you want to learn English for conversation, Business English or  English for exams then don't study Jesse Pinkman!

3. The Wire

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English (The Wire)

Another show acclaimed for its authenticity and realism is The Wire, a HBO-produced drama set in Baltimore, USA.

The writers included David Simon who was a former police reporter who worked on the Baltimore Sun newspaper for 12 years. The writers deliberately put huge effort into having the characters speak authentically.

Thus the African-American drug dealers have their own speech patterns, grammar and slang, similar to Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. It can be almost impenetrable for outsiders.

However this way of speaking originated in places like the housing projects of Baltimore, whereas Jesse Pinkman copies it.

The writers remove the glamour of violence and show the consequences of these actions.

They show the drudgery and the hard work and luck involved in police work instead of the brilliant minds of TV detectives such as Columbo or in other TV detective shows, Murder She Wrote, or Inspector Morse from the UK.

4. Deadwood

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English  (Deadwood)

Another HBO show set in the past, similar to Peaky Blinders, this time in the Wild West of the USA in 1870. Here the dialogue is deliberately highly-stylised and unusual and is a little difficult even for native speakers to understand.

This makes the show unique and it received great acclaim from the critics but it also makes it unsuitable for learning English.

The great writer of TV's Black Mirror, journalist and TV presenter Charlie Brooker did a fascinating analysis of the show on here.

And maybe a surprise....

5. Game of Thrones

5 TV Series To Avoid When Learning English (Game of Thrones)

A person's class, meaning their status in society, is a very important theme in Game of Thrones.

In general the Highborn such as the Starks and the Lannisters speak very slowly and clearly.

A lot of these actors are British actors, and they are often trained in Shakespeare and have a strong background in theatre. They project their voice very well and have excellent pronunciation, almost like the famous "BBC English."

In contrast to this many of the characters from the lower classes use coarser language, slang, have stronger accents and are more difficult to understand. Examples include the prostitutes, foot soldiers, or the members of the Night's Watch.

So even though Game of Thrones is one of the most popular TV shows in the world it might not be the best choice to study if trying to improve your English.

If you want to imitate the same pronunciation used on TV shows, then Friends is the best example, we have a post on it coming soon, and you can check out my own pronunciation and some pronunciation mistakes my Brazilian students make in our video course on sale on Udemy for €29.99/69.99R$ "Eliminate the Mistakes that Portuguese Speakers Make in English". 4 hours of video exclusively for people that speak Portuguese. You can read more about it and watch free videos here.

Gordon Gaffney

About the author

Gordon is The Irish English Teacher, creator of this blog and many products to help all students learning English as a second language, but with a focus on Portuguese speakers.

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